Thunderbolt logo

SWAT 4

When I was younger, I wanted to be a police officer. I don’t know why, but I wanted to be one. I think in preschool, it was just easy to pick a police officer as a career because I really didn’t know what people did for a living or understand it, but I knew cops caught bad people and that seemed like a good thing. Some years later, I learned that being a cop was dangerous and difficult and at that point I gave up on any ideas I had of pursuing a career in law enforcement. But though I have decided that becoming a police officer is a bad idea for me, I’m still incredibly willing to put on a virtual uniform and clean up the streets in possibly the best law enforcement game around, SWAT 4.

SWAT 4 plays a lot like Rainbow Six or any other tactical shooters, but the setting is much different. While the Rainbow games have you tracking down terrorists and the Ghost Recon games put you into the boots of soldiers operating secretively behind enemy lines, SWAT 4 sets you as the team leader of an elite SWAT team that has been tasked with carrying out the most dangerous police missions on the streets of America. You’ll be sent into hostage situations, where you have to work delicately to save the lives of innocent civilians that are caught in the crossfire. This isn’t your standard FPS though, where you are encouraged and rewarded if you kill every enemy in site. Instead, the goal in SWAT 4 is to see to it that your enemies have their day in court, so your aim is to drag them out in cuffs, not in a body bag. If your enemy won’t comply and it comes down to saving your own life, you can quickly put a bullet between their eyes, but like in real-life, there are consequences for doing so. Should you kill too many criminals, you won’t be able to progress on to the next level, which is the videogame equivalent to being suspended from the force.

Fortunately, there are many options at your disposal for getting your targets to surrender peacefully. Your team, which consists of five members in total, has access to all of the latest gadgets used to fight America’s War on Crime. If you’re approaching a door, you can have your team use a special mirror to search under the crack and see if it’s safe. If the door is locked, they can pick the lock quietly or use explosives to blow the door in, surprising the enemy inside and giving you a chance to safely gain position in the new room. You can also use any number of devices like flashbangs, gas grenades, and these sweet grenades that launch disorienting rubber balls at your enemies to get them to submit. If a criminal refuses to comply with your orders, you can also use pepperspray or tasers to get them to end their crime spree.

No matter how hard you try, sometimes, a criminal will not cooperate. In this case, you will have to use your firearms, and this is another area where SWAT 4 really shines. Using firearms modeled to work exactly like the ones that law enforcement officers are equipped with (many of which are actually licensed from the Colt Gun Company), you can deliver deadly shots accurately and effectively. The arsenal of weapons isn’t very massive, but all of the weapons are effective at working in tight spaces and delivering accurate shots that can mean the difference between the death of a hostage and the death of a criminal. You’ll find yourself clutching onto beautifully modeled renditions of the M4A1 assault rifle, the ever-popular AK-47, several shotguns, many pistols, and non-lethal weapons like a pepper-ball gun. And as incredible as the guns are to look at and admire, the environments are even more impressive. Each area seems painstakingly designed. A kitchen in a restaurant is filled with steam from the food that’s been left on the stove in the chaos. The floor is dingy and dirty. An underground tunnel is muddy and dark. Everything looks just looks incredibly accurate and lifelike.

SWAT 4’s overwhelming realism is why it works so well. The experience is never the same. Each area is incredibly well-designed, sometimes featuring hidden areas where you’ll find holed up enemies hiding out hoping to evade capture. You’ll have to explore every nook and cranny to find every enemy, secure every piece of evidence, and rescue all the hostages. Exploration is always dangerous and tense because each member of your unit is valuable to the success of the mission. If one man goes down, the entire team has to work harder to make sure the mission is successful. The responsibility is on your shoulders to make sure the mission goes right, as your team only does what you order them to do. One of my personal favorite realistic touches was something I didn’t notice until a few missions in. I came around a corner and was surprised by a woman with a shotgun. She fired at me after I yelled for her to drop her weapon and injured my legs. For the rest of the mission, I moved at a snail’s pace because of the wounds. It’s a nice touch that really enhances the experience.

This is simply a game you can’t get bored of. While you’ll put other games on the shelf when you finish, SWAT 4 is simply too dynamic to simply play through once. I’ve played almost every level that I’ve finished in this game more than once, just to get a better score, to see if I can get criminals I had to terminate to comply this time around. It’s insanely addictive. Nearly every part of the execution is flawless. Most of your orders are handled through an easy menu that’s accessed by only clicking a few buttons on your mouse and your AI teammates nearly always perform your orders without incident.

The AI driving your suspects works brilliantly at being a constant pain in the ass. In one mission, an elderly woman refusing to comply with my orders distracted me long enough to allow her son, a suspect, to sneak up on my unit. He was killed before he could inflict damage, but if we hadn’t noticed him, he would have inflicted heavy damage with his surprise attack. In another level, I forced one suspect to drop his weapon only to have another suspect pick up the dropped weapon and unloading it at me. Elements of surprise like these make every mission interesting and unique.

The only real faults with this game are that occasionally your teammates will get stuck on objects in the environment when searching and you’ll have to nudge them out of the way to get them to move. The second fault is that the computer is ultimately the judge on how you behaved during the mission. Your ranking at the end (which determines if you can move on to the next level) is determined by the game, which may feel that you used excessive force or shouldn’t have killed a criminal, even if you thought otherwise. I really don’t think there’s any way around this fault, but I sometimes felt that the scoring was a bit off.

Besides these quibbles, the game is nearly perfect, and ultimately, it’s just a hell of a lot of fun to play. It’s addictive and incredibly challenging. Exploration of the area you’re breaching is slow and nerve-racking, but when you come across an enemy, everything is sped up and the situation becomes much more dangerous and exciting. It’s a great feeling and one that isn’t delivered by many other games. SWAT 4 is one of the best FPS games around and one that you’re certain to enjoy if you add it to your collection.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

Gentle persuasion

You should follow us on Twitter.